Each year for Christmas I try to make at least one present by hand. The last few years the gifts I’ve made have been mostly for grandparents (you can see those here). This year I decided to make something for my wife instead. She is incredibly support of my woodworking hobby (read “addiction”) and I wanted to use my skills for her. I had already decided on a nice gift that I wanted to get her, so this box was meant to be not only a beautiful way to present this gift, but also a nice presentation or jewelry box she could use in the future.
The Build: Prep Materials
To start, as with every project, I drew out a sketch of how big I wanted to make the box based on the dimensions of the gift I knew would be inside of it. This includes the inside depth, which is an important measurement to take into account when you’re planning your box. Certain methods of construction will decrease the useable space inside of the box, so make sure that you plan for the room you need along with the style of box you want to make. For my box, I decided on a simple box with finger joints and a flat lid that would sit on top.
I measured, lined out, and then cut all of my pieces for the box. The board I got was actually thicker than I wanted to use for this box so I knew I was going to plane it down. Because I knew this going in, I left my boards a little too long at this stage. I use a planer, not a hand plane, to make boards thinner, and the planet I have had a tendency to cut a cup at the end of the board if the board falls a little as it reaches the end of the runner.
Basically, the cutting blade of the planer is in the top part, so as more of the board is pushed through gravity starts to push down on the end that is hanging out. When the board gets to the end sometimes the end of the board that is still in the planer gets levered up into the blade (like a teeter-totter) and the blade cuts a dip into the board. To prevent this as much as possible, I like to hold up the far end of my board when it gets almost all the way through the planer. A lot of people solve this problem by building their planer into a workbench so that the board can be supported on either side while it is going through the planer.
Laying Out And Dry Fitting
Next, I laid out the markings for the cuts I wanted to make. I decided to use finger joints on this box. Finger joints increase the amount of gluable surface since the joints interlock at the corners, making the joints themselves stronger. It is a different aesthetic from the popular miter joint, but miter joints are notoriously not very strong on their own and I wanted to build this box to last a long time. Before using any joint method, do some research to see if you like the way they look and if they will be strong enough for the application you want to use them for.
Make sure before you do any cutting that you lay all the marked boards out in the correct patter and check that all of the marks are in the right place, that the sides of the boards you want to see are facing out, etc. It is always wise to do a final check before gluing everything together.
I used a band saw to cut the joints out. The blade is very thin and precise so it is easy to clean out these rectangular joints. I have also used a jigsaw in the past, which works fine but can be a little messier. I have found that for cuts like this it is easier to make a lot of small cuts in tight spaces instead of trying to cut diagonally in with the blade. Once you make these cuts, you can just pinch the waste to one side and the other with your fingers and it generally breaks out easily. Then you can clean out any little bits with the saw, small chisel, or even a file or sandpaper. Just be careful not to go past your lines.
Once all of the joints were cut I put the sides together around the bottom of the box. I glued all four edges of the bottom of the box first, along with the inside of the finger joints, and then slid the connected sides down over the edge of the bottom so that the glue was pushed up and spread evenly. I flipped it over and clamped the whole box together and let it sit for an hour or so. In the mean time, I prepared the lid.
In my haste to finish the box, I forgot to take pictures of the lid process, but I will still describe it. I have made more complicated lids in the past but for this one I decided to just use a simple piece of wood that would sit on the top. All I had to do was cut it to the right size and plane it (both of which I did earlier when I did the sides and bottom), then sand it smooth and round over the corners. I have a couple different routers and roundover bits for making nice round corners on things, but I have found that for a small projects like this it is often just as efficient and often easier and faster to just round over the corners with my palm sander. I have a little more control that way and I don’t have to get our tools to change a router bit.
I took my wife to Hobby Lobby to pick out the hardware for her box and she chose some nice bronze hinges and corner decorations. I also got a small latch to keep the box closed. I eyeballed where one of the hinges looked good and marked it, then measured that distance from the end of the box and made the other hinge match so it was symmetrical. I also measured the center of the front for the placement of the latch.
Wait, What About That Title?
At this point, you may be wondering “why did he call this box scratch and sniff?” I’m glad you asked! I created this box out of cedar, because in addition to being very light weight and pretty to look at, it smells really good. It’s the kind of scent that everyone associates with wood. It’s the kind of scent that classic air fresheners try to copy. Often, furniture like dressers or chests are made of cedar to let the smell out every time it is opened. I’ve even heard stories of professional woodworkers cutting some cedar in their shops when they know they have a potential client coming over, just so the client can smell that fresh wood smell.
The whole key to keeping this scent of cedar (or any wood you like the smell of) is to not finish the inside of the box. Sand it smooth and leave it alone rather than putting any kind of protective coating on it. Anything like lacquer or stain that goes on the wood will mask the smell that cedar is famous for. I would recommend finishing the outside though, to protect it from moisture or scratches when the box is closed.
As a side note, there is a possibility that finishing one side of a board and not the other may lead to the board becoming warped. All wood takes in and lets out moisture according to the humidity of the air around them, but when wood is finished it slows or even stops the flow of moisture. If one side is finished and the other is not, that means that all of the moisture will have to flow through the unfinished side, and that unbalanced moisture could possibly cause the wood to warp in that direction. I generally finish both sides of my projects to prevent this, but in the case of this cedar letting the smell out was more important to me so I left the inside unfinished.
Lastly, I put a piece of black felt in the bottom of the box to add a sophisticated touch to the inside. The felt is porous so it still let’s the smell out, but it makes the box look professional and truly complete.
The Wrap Up
This project is a good way to practice some skills that you will use in almost every other project, and it doesn’t cost a lot in time or materials. I finished the whole project in an afternoon. It’s also a great project to make as a gift for someone else, or as a way to display your prized possessions.
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